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Nuts About Chocolate

Sophisticated versions of a kid-friendly combo


Peanuts get a bad rap these days, from outright bans at schools to bags of Halloween candy proudly declaring their peanut deficiency. But when I was a kid, the more peanuts, the better. I present for your deliberation: Mars versus Snickers. Mars bar? Cloyingly sweet with an oddly slick texture. Snickers bar? Caramelly, chewy, and delicious—and stuffed with peanuts. I rest my case.

If peanuts are good, then peanuts and chocolate is better. There’s a reason that Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups have endured since 1928, and it isn’t because my college roommate used to—and probably still does—eat them compulsively.

Snickers may have been the gold standard when I was eight, but my palate has changed since then. I’m happy to get my peanut butter-chocolate fix elsewhere, and preferably from products that deliver nostalgic flavor in grown-up ways.

Chocolat Moderne Peanut Pizzazz Avant Garde Bar

Slightly salty, slightly sweet, and with a bit of sparkly crunch from shards of burnt sugar, the Chocolat Moderne Peanut Pizzazz bar is reminiscent of Reese’s Pieces—in the very best way. Company founder and chocolatier Joan Coukos Todd clarifies: “It’s not actually peanut butter. It’s peanut praline, made in the European style.”

She starts by salting and roasting peanuts, then caramelizes them in sugar and blends them with Valrhona milk chocolate. “You get that sweet and salty combination, and the caramel notes in the chocolate balance the savory and caramel,” says Coukos Todd. The peanut praline is tucked into a dark chocolate shell decorated with green- and yellow-tinted cocoa butter splotches. “It’s a nod to Jackson Pollock.”

Located in midtown New York City, Chocolat Moderne has seen several iterations of the peanut butter praline. After making cameo appearances as an Easter egg filling, it was enrobed in milk chocolate for an assortment box, and for now, has settled as part of the company’s line of hand-painted Avant Garde bars.

Poco Dolce Peanut Butter Bar

Kathy Wiley loves gianduja, and she’s not alone. Italians are obsessive about the stuff—a mixture of caramelized nuts (usually hazelnuts), blended to a paste and cut with high-quality chocolate. Wiley, founder of San Francisco’s Poco Dolce, liked the idea of gianduja but knew she needed something more familiar to the American palate. And so the Poco Dolce Peanut Butter Bar was born.

The bar looks every bit like an ordinary chocolate bar, but its chocolatey front quickly gives way to the richness of roasted peanuts. Small crystals of sel gris from Normandy add an unexpected crunch. “I think of it as the American gianduja,” says Wiley. “It’s chocolate and then it’s peanut butter.”

When it came to sourcing the chocolate for Poco Dolce, Wiley stayed local. Located just 15 miles south of San Francisco, Guittard Chocolate Company has been making chocolate for more than four generations. Wiley uses Guittard exclusively in her selection of flavored bars (the olive oil bar is another winner), toffees, and tiles—small squares of chocolate featuring additions like burnt caramel toffee, candied ginger, or roasted almonds.

Patric Chocolate PBJ OMG and Spicy Thai Peanut bars

Alan McClure is also a fan of gianduja, but he leapfrogged over chocolate-peanut interpretations to arrive at that staple of grade-school lunches: peanut butter and jelly. Patric Chocolate’s PBJ OMG bar delivers on all fronts: chocolatey, peanutty and jammy, with a touch of salt and acidity. It contains only chocolate, peanut butter, and salt. Where’s the jelly, you ask? It comes from the intensely fruity Madagascan chocolate that McClure makes in-house.

McClure is one of a dozen or so craft chocolate makers in the United States. When he launched Patric Chocolate in 2006, he specialized in single-origin bars. Though the line has since expanded to include fun, flavored bars like the PBJ OMG, McClure still makes all his chocolate directly from the cacao bean.

PBJ OMG’s softer texture is great for eating, but not for shipping. McClure only makes it between October and March because “it’s just too warm the rest of the year.” This winter, he’s also making a limited edition Spicy Thai Peanut bar with ginger-infused cane sugar, roasted peanuts, and habanero sea salt. It borders on savory, with the ginger providing an earthy counterpoint to the heat and the peanuts providing an addictive crunch.

As for the name PBJ OMG, one of McClure’s employees suggested it and it stuck. “It’s not like I named it because every time someone tastes it they say OMG…though people have told me that.”

Eagranie Yuh is a writer, editor, and chocolate educator. Prior to that, she was a chemist, pastry chef, and chocolatier. She writes a sweets column for the Vancouver Courier and is a regular contributor to Edible Vancouver. Her essay on frankenchocolatechip cookies is included in Best Food Writing 2012 and she’s the author of the forthcoming Chocolate-Tasting Kit (Chronicle Books). Eagranie is a frequent judge of chocolate competitions and blogs about the science of sweet things at The Well-Tempered Chocolatier.


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